By: Brandi Ogrodowski, Point Park News Service
When James O’Connor was in the Marines, he injured his shoulder playing football and had to stop playing the sport he loved.
After a friend recommended the online computer game Counter-strike: Global Offensive (CS GO), O’Connor, played it to pass the time and quickly fell in love.
He loved it so much that he went pro, created his own teams, found sponsors and participated in 30 competitive seasons. Now he’s an owner of the Pittsburgh based competitive gaming team called the Knights, which has different divisions based on different games.
“I have been in it [the competitive gaming scene] since its birth,” O’Connor, 36, said.
Over the last couple of years, the eSports, or electronic sports, scene has grown exponentially. It is a forum for competition through video games where teams of professional players compete against each other in multiplayer games for cash prizes. The most common types of the games played are fighting, first-person shooter (FPS), real-time strategy and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA).
“The International” is a tournament for the MOBA game Dota 2 held by its creator, Valve Cooperation every year since 2011. In its first year, it had a prize pool of $1,600,000 according to ESPN. Within six short years, the prize increased to a total of $24,787,916 in 2017 according to its official website.
According to Newzoo, a market research company revolving around eSports, explained that in 2017 there was an expected growth of $696 million in revenue. ESports is especially large in Asian countries, specifically China and South Korea which accounted for 51 percent of the viewership last year. America, though, is still catching up.
Don Marinelli is the director of innovation for Inven Global, a Korean company that covers major gaming events and eSports news and former professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He first learned about eSports from a student who wanted to work with Riot Games on League of Legends, a popular multiplayer battlefield game.
Marinelli explained that when there is an eSports competition in the U.S., it sells out in record time. When the League of Legends World Championship in 2013 was at the Staples Center, it sold out its 11,000 seats in an hour. Though there’s a growing audience, the states don’t have the professional teams to support it.
“I think where the future of the U.S. is in high school, college and university eSports,” Marinelli explained.
Like traditional sports, teams pick eSports students and recruit them for professional teams. It is here, he believes, the U.S. will be able to catch up with their own teams.
This year alone, 60 universities are offering eSports scholarships.
Twitch, a streaming service where viewers can watch people play all sorts of games, has grown the eSports industry. As reported by the Esports Observer, Twitch viewers spent 24.4 million hours watching League of Legends within the week of Jan. 15 – 21, 2018. Another game, Counter-strike: Global Offensive clocked in 21.0 million hours.
“Twitch has been the fuse that lit the eSports powder cage because Twitch showed that there is a market for this in the U.S.,” Marinelli said.
Twitch doesn’t only allow entertainment to the viewers but provides a way for players to earn revenue. While streaming, viewers can make monetary donations as a way of thanking the player for the entertainment.
The industry has grown so big that 17 NBA franchises have teamed up with the creator of its video games counterpart 2K Games to create an eSports team. According to Forbes, these teams are paying around $750,00 for a three-year commitment to be involved in this eSports league.
The NBA isn’t alone in getting involved with the eSports scene. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones along with other investors have acquired Complexity, according to ESPN. Formed in 2003, the brand has 130 championships in 26 different games under its belt. The group intends to have an eSports center built near the Dallas Cowboys office at The Star. With such a backing, this team will have the type of support that’ll help continue its growth.
As for Pittsburgh, the Knights have a gaming lounge located in Hazelwood called Leonyx’s Lounge. Players can make appointments to use the facility supplied with a variety of gaming consoles and PCs. A gamer could bring in a console game or log into their account and play. The lounge also holds tournaments for games like Super Smash Brothers Melee and the entry fee is $1.
Outside of the tournaments, all of that technology won’t cost the gamer a penny. Thanks to the team and its production company bringing in revenue, they are able to run the facility without additional fees to gamers.
“We don’t want to rob the community for a couple of dollars,” David Maynard, coordinator for the Knights said. Maynard helps run the lounge.
It won’t be there forever though. They are already working on redesigning the space which was formally Devils & Dolls on the South Side explained Maynard, and have already put in a stage.
O’Connor has high hopes for his company and aims to bring together the current sports culture with that of eSports.
“I’m trying to lead Pittsburgh to unite gamers and current eSports infrastructures together. To continue the city of champions culture into gaming,” O’Connor said.